"You are what you eat", goes a famous saying. And if that is truly the
case, then a lot of Americans would appear to be unhealthy, chemically treated,
commercially raised slabs of animal flesh. And while that is not a particularly
pleasant thought, it is nonetheless an description of the typical American
omnivore who survives on the consumption of Big Macs and steak fajitas. But
there are individuals who do not follow this American norm and have altered
their diets so that they do not consume any meat. These people are vegetarians,
and they are the new breed of healthy Americans who refuse to poison themselves
with fats, cholesterol, and the other harmful additives that come from meat. And
while once thought to be a movement that would never gain much momentum, it has
nonetheless moved itself to the forefront of Americansí healthy diets. The
word vegetarian, used to describe the diets of people who do not consume animal
flesh, was not used until around the mid-1800s. The concept of vegetarianism,
however, dates back much further. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras, considered
by many to be the father of vegetarianism, encouraged a non-meat diet among his
followers as a diet that was the most natural and healthful (Messina 3). A
vegetarian diet excludes the consumption of meat, and can be exercised by people
for a number of reasons. The largest majority of individuals chose vegetarianism
for health related reasons. For example, someone with an ulcer might be
prescribed a strict diet of vegetables in order to promote the healing process.

Or someone with a dangerously high level of cholesterol might be advised to
follow a vegetarian diet to lower his or her fat and cholesterol intake. The
immorality of consuming animal flesh is another argument touted by a smaller
group of vegetarians. R.G. Frey describes this moral argument for vegetarianism
and the effect that meat eating might have on the character of humans: Some
people have come to believe and fear that, in the suffering and killing which
occurs in commercial farming, we demean ourselves, coarsen our sensitivities,
dull our feelings of sympathy with our fellow creatures, and so begin the
descent down the slippery slope of torture and death, to a point where it
becomes easier for us to contemplate and carry out the torture and killing of
human beings. (20) This moral argument for vegetarianism is also noted by John

Robbins who states that "the suffering these animals undergo has become so
extreme that to partake of food from these creatures is to partake unknowingly
of the abject misery that has been their lives"(14). But whatever the
reasons behind a personís choice to be a vegetarian, it is important to
understand the different diets that individual vegetarians can choose. In the
widest sense of the word, a vegetarian diet is a diet that is made up of grains,
vegetables and fruit, but does not include any animal flesh, such as fish, pork,
poultry, or beef. But beyond these standards, there are many variations of diet
that occur within the world of vegetarianism. The first, and most prominent,
category of vegetarianism is a lacto-ovo vegetarian. Mark Messina describes a
lact-ovo diet as "...a vegetarian diet (that) includes dairy products and
eggs but no animal flesh"(7). This means that there is consumption of
animal byproducts, such as milk, eggs, or honey, but there is no consumption of
animal flesh. Another variation is the lacto-vegetarian diet that allows the
consumption of milk and other milk products, but does not include the
consumption of eggs. And like all vegetarians, these two groups do not consume
fish, poultry, or meat (Messina 7). Another category that vegetarians can fall
into are vegans. The vegan diet is by far the most strict of all the vegetarian
diets. According to Mark Messina, "Vegans avoid meat, fish, poultry, dairy,
and eggs. There are many other foods that may not be acceptable to many vegans,
however. Foods that involve animal processing to any degree are often
avoided"(11). This means that vegans can consume no foods containing animal
byproducts, such as milk, eggs, or honey. Being a vegan often dictates an
"animal friendly" lifestyle that, aside from not eating anything that
came from an animal, also abstains from buying or using products that were
tested on animals or are made from animal hairs or skin, such as leather shoes
or belts (Messina 11). A common misconception of vegetarians is that they are
all a bunch of skinny, malnourished idealists who live on plants and soy milk.

And another, related common misconception is that a diet of meat is a diet that
builds strength.